HOFFMAN ESTATES -- Naperville North had twice as many scoring chances as Lyons did during Friday’s Class 3A state semifinal at Hoffman Estates, but the only one that mattered was taken by the Lions right before halftime.
Owen Suda scored off a Collin Sullivan throw-in with just 1:16 left in the first half and it proved to be the only offense Lyons needed to punch its ticket to Saturday’s state championship game with a 1-0 victory over the Huskies.
“I’m usually the man running behind the flick and in this case on this throw I was the man with the flick,” Suda said. “My job was to run with the ball and flick the ball into the back of the net. I got lucky bounces. Honestly, luck is a part of the game. I saw it go in. It bounced over at least two defenders and went into the back of the net.”
Naperville North (22-2-3), which saw its 26-game unbeaten streak come to an abrupt end, will finish its fantastic season without a state title, but still has a chance to end with a win if it can bring home the third place against Glenbrook North at 10:30 a.m. Saturday.
Lyons (20-6-2) will take on New Trier at 6:30 p.m. with high hopes for its second state title and first in 14 years.
“It was a monumental win for us,” Lyons coach Paul Labbato said. “It’s just been one of these runs that you just got to believe. You’ve got to believe we could do it and every time adversity hits, these guys respond. It’s been great.”
It’s been a postseason full of dramatics for Lyons, and its collective nail-biters have seemingly toughened the team in its current success.
“I think we’ve gotten used to a little bit of stress during these playoffs and tight games here and there,” Lyons senior forward Austen Wisniewski said. “I think we know we’re a family. When it comes down to it, we’re going to put our bodies on the line no matter what to get the ball out of the box to do anything to keep it out of Tyler’s (Balon) eyesight.”
After clipping Young 1-0 in a sectional semifinal, getting three goals in a 13-minute span to double up Morton 4-2 in a sectional final and erasing three one-goal deficits against Stagg before winning in eight rounds of penalty kicks in Tuesday’s supersectional, the Lions withstood a Huskies attack that threatened often from start to finish.
“I’m just watching and just kind of in admiration of these guys and how hard they are working,” Labbato said. “I can’t get over it. I’ve told them multiple times that I’m just so proud of how hard they’ve worked and how far they’ve come over this run and the whole season. But this run has been special. We’re just focused and it’s great to be around players and young men that are just focused on a goal. Now I’m watching them just do it.”
The Huskies dynamic scoring tandem of Jaxon Stokes and Noah Radeke proved to be dangerous at times, but their multiple opportunities went unfulfilled.
“They’re just a good team overall,” Radeke said. “We had to do whatever we could to defend their strengths, and we had an unlucky game.”
Still scoreless in the 25th minute, Radeke drove into the box before taking a shot and having it rejected by Balon. The loose ball was retrieved by Jaxon Stokes, but his rebound attempt sailed wide.
“I can’t use enough superlatives or words of pride to describe the way we played tonight,” Konrad said. “You can’t pick out a play where we made a mistake or a pick out kid who didn’t play up to their potential tonight. Soccer can be cruel, and we’ve been on the other end. We won a game here with two shots and (the team we beat) had 21. So, tonight wasn’t our night. It’s sad to say goodbye to our seniors, but I’ve got 10 starters coming back next year so we’ll hopefully make another run at it next year.”
The Huskies pressured hard throughout, firing 16 shots, including several that came on the end of the team’s 12 corner kicks. Lyons only took 7 shots and just three corners.
“I thought we played incredibly well tonight,” Konrad said. “I couldn’t be prouder with the way the boys handled the big lights and the big stage. Obviously, we’ve been lucky to be here a number times, and that’s about as good as we played on this field. I don’t even remember the teams that won it all playing as well as the boys played tonight. They were almost perfect.”
That’s certainly saying a lot since Konrad was at the helm when the Huskies won three consecutive state titles from 2016-18.
“We had a few chances that didn’t go our way, and the boys handled the long throw restarts incredibly well,” he said. “One just slipped through and that happens. I’m sad we lost, but I’m walking away feeling very proud of what this team accomplished.”
As dangerous as the Huskies were, the Lions matched them with their preparedness and execution in keeping them off the scoreboard.
“I just feel like when the ball was in the box we would put our lives on the line for that ball,” Suda said. “Everyone was on the floor. We wanted that ball. We wanted to clear that ball no matter if it was a 20-yard clearance of 50-yard clearance. We cleared the ball; we stepped on the ball; we wanted that ball.”
Lyons goakeeper Tyler Balon made eight saves, including a few of the extremely difficult variety.
“Obviously, we had (6-foot-4) Owen (Suda) and (6-foot-3) Collin (Sullivan) back there for throw-ins, and (Naperville Norh) is probably one of the best teams in the state,” he said. “(Suda and Sullivan) made it really easy on us on defense.”
When the Huskies sped ahead on a free kick in the 53rd minute, looking to catch Balon and the Lions off-guard, he never lost focus and got a hint that they were up to something and used it to stop them in their tracks.
“The quick free kick they tried to play outside, I saw them whisper to their teammate,” he said. “So, I had to run there as he (Josh Pedersen) was wide open, and he would’ve scored.”
It marked the third-straight time that Lyons has defeated Naperville North. The teams were supposed to play earlier this fall but the game was cancelled due to extreme heat. The Lions enjoyed 2-0 victories over the Huskies in 2021 and 2022.
The teams did not play during the abbreviated spring 2021 season but tied 1-1 in 2019.
They hadn’t met in the postseason since the Huskies won 1-0 on a Cesar Recendez goal in a Class 3A Lewis Supersectional in 2018, a victory that sent them toward to state where they won their most recent title during the three-peat.
GK: Tyler Balon
D: Declan Kracker
D: Collin Sullivan
D: Danny Svelnis
D: Mason Santos
D; Harrison Hoekstra
MF: Jimmy Brejcha
MF: Haris Sarajlija
F: Austen Wisniewski
F: Mason Burda
F: Owen Suda
GK: Jack Bouska
D: Sam Hess
D: Josh Pedersen
D: Colin McMahon
D: Connor Hanrahan
MF: Hindo Allie
MF: Niko Ladas
MF: Juan Carlos Hernandez-Morena
MF: Anthony Flores
F: Noah Radeke
F: Jaxon Stokes
Chicagoland Soccer Man of the Match, Owen Suda, Lyons, sr., F
L: Owen Suda (Collin Sullivan), 39’